Since polling closed on July 27, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) spin machine has been
in full swing, slamming corruption and crying foul over what it deemed an unfair
The party is doing what it has always done best: speaking out louder and more critically
then anyone else. It is an approach that has typified the party since its inception
in 1995, and it continues to pay off.
Whether or not the final tally for the SRP reflects the provisional results of the
National Election Committee (NEC), likely showing 25 seats, or the SRP's own projection
of 28 seats, it is a clear improvement on the 15 seats won in 1998.
No longer the poor younger brother of royalist Funcinpec, of which leader Sam Rainsy
was previously a member, the SRP has now emerged with a distinctive voice, and has
cemented its political position.
Earlier this year Rainsy was talking of winning as many as 42 seats. But he is not
disappointed with its showing, and said the party had a lot to be proud of.
"Given the problems and the obstacles that we have to face, given the environment
of intimidation ... given that we started with bare hands against two well-established
parties, I think this is a satisfactory result, and all the SRP members can be proud,"
The 2002 local election results gave some indication of potential success. Although
the CPP romped home ahead of everyone else, Funcinpec's abysmal performance gave
the SRP hope for 2003. The opposition vowed to mobilize voters and pinch supporters
from the royalist fold.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the opposition
party's policies seemed finally to have wrested votes from Funcinpec.
"It comes as no surprise to anyone that the SRP did so well as they have been
working so hard," she said. "They catch voter attention with specific [policies]
that really affect people in urban areas [such as] corruption, the price of petrol
The SRP's key improvements are in urban areas. It took half the seats in Phnom Penh,
and made significant gains in Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kampong Thom and Prey Veng. However
the isolated northern and northeastern provinces remain staunchly in CPP hands.
Opposition MP Son Chhay told the Post that in order to conquer the countryside, media
access would have to be improved. He said the SRP would have to push for its own
Rainsy said his plan for the future would be to focus on mobilizing the youth.
"Funcinpec plays on the past and the King," he explained. "The CPP
makes references to the Khmer Rouge ... But the people born after 1970 make comparisons
to Thailand. They talk to their friends, they want jobs, and they start to think
about things for themselves."
But some observers warned problems could arise unless splits within the party were
fixed. A number of defections from the SRP to Funcinpec prior to the elections brought
to light dissatisfaction within the opposition's ranks.
"They need to now focus on strengthening the management [or] the party could
just collapse from within," said Vannath.
Son Chhay agreed that the party was in need of reorganization.
"We have to look into some reform," he said. "We do not have a good
management team in place. We must have more then just a one-man kind of party. We
hope we will be more open, more democratic. Every member should have a say."
One recent defector to Funcinpec, who requested anonymity, suggested the SRP's squeaky-clean
image was a far cry from reality. He felt more supporters could leave unless bad
eggs were removed from the party.
"Sam Rainsy always claims to be democratic, but all decisions are made by him
and a few people he likes," he claimed. "Rainsy only listens to his wife's
orders, but he never discusses anything with the members in his party. If you just
look from the outside, Sam Rainsy seems to be a very fair leader but in fact he has
no justice at all."
Rainsy denied unrest within party ranks, and said its internal workings were the
most democratic and transparent in the land.
"The SRP used to be perceived as a one-man show," he said. "People
said it revolves around Sam Rainsy and his wife, but they now realize this is not
a one-man party ... Had I been a dictator, had it been corrupt, we would not have
Son Chhay feels the royalists should merge with the SRP.
"I think it is becoming clear that in the next five years we are going to have
two major parties," said Son Chhay. "For the sake of the monarchy, I think
the royal family should give up politics."
So where does the SRP go from here? With political wrangling taking new twists every
day, its immediate future is uncertain. But most pundits the Post spoke to immediately
after the election felt its time had not yet come, and another five years in opposition